Important Muscles Involved in Lower Back Pain – Part 3 : Rectus Abdominus

17 June, 2010 at 23:30 11 comments

The Rectus Abdominus muscle is the most superficial (i.e. closest to the surface of the body) of the layer of muscles making up the abdominal wall.  This muscle is also informally known as the “six-pack” or “abs” muscle as its appearance is known as such on a person with a well defined and toned set of Rectus Abdominus muscles.

So what has a muscle on the front side of the body got to do with back pain? Well, first off, this muscle provides stability and movement to the lower half of the front part of the body, but also it works in opposition yet at the same time complements the muscles at the back of the body, in particular the muscles which attach either side of and make movement of the spinal column possible such as the Erector Spinae and Transversospinales group of muscles.  A weak or over contracted Rectus Abdominus muscle causes us to slouch forward, thus putting extra strain and over activating the muscles of the lower back and gluteal region to compensate.

If we now also have a look at the trigger point pain referral diagram above, you should be able to discern that trigger points in the Rectus Abdominus muscle can causes referred pain to be felt in the lower back as well as in some cases the mid back region towards the bottom of the rib cage (see illustration A at the top of that diagram).

So as always, following on from the precedent set up in part 1 and part 2 of this series, we a video now for you giving a basic overview of the anatomy relating to this muscle just to give an appreciation of where it is located, its size and shape, and what it does in terms of body movement actions that it helps us to accomplish:

The Rectus Abdominus and underlying deeper muscles of the abdominal cavity form the front and sides of what can be considered a corset like structure of musculature, whilst the muscles of the lower back and lower spine region form the enclosing back side of this corset of muscles.  The muscles of the pelvic floor (i.e. deep internal pelvis area) are also part of the integrity of the bottom side of this corset like structure, whilst the top of this corset is formed of the (respiratory) diaphragm which is a sheet of muscle lining the bottom section of the rib cages and is a major muscle involved in breathing.  An imbalance in strength or weakness anywhere within this corset structure therefore can causes problems elsewhere as all parts are interdependent upon one another structurally.  It is therefore important to address all these areas in any exercise routine designed to holistically address lower back pain.  The video which follows below is a very useful 10 minute yoga routine designed to holistically exercise the muscles and structure of the core:

Regular execution of an exercise routine such as the one demonstrated above are useful not only in terms of balancing tension in the physical structure through stretching and toning, but it also promotes and trains our ability to become more and more aware of sensations going on within our bodies (that we were not aware of before), in turn and over time we then learn how to use these cues to provide finer degrees of movement control and discernment over what messages our bodies are trying to give to us.

Release of tension and the increase of awareness within our core, particularly the abdominal region can help with challenges that we may be experiencing with the internal organs located therein.  For example IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or constipation to name just but 2 can be helped as physical compression and physical stress is taken off of the digestive organs from the surrounding muscles as their tension is released.  Abdominal related disturbances such as IBS and constipation very usually have an emotional cause at their core, so being able to provide even just a few moment of respite in order to stimulate a body-wide or body-region specific relaxation can help dissipate the emotional charge associated bit by bit over time.  We recommend receiving body therapy related work to effect a guided significant muscular release from a practitioner such as ISCA Therapies if you wish to fast track your recovery in addition to doing home exercise routines.

Join me for part 4 where we’ll start looking into muscular imbalances in the hip and pelvis region and how these can contribute to lower back pain. Muscular imbalances in the hip and pelvis body area is a meaty topic in itself so will be spread across a number of forthcoming articles.

If you have found these series of articles useful and interesting so far, please do let me know.  Also if you have any other comments or questions, please do let me have them, there is bound to be someone else out there with the same question but who hasn’t written in for whatever reason.  We will use your comments to formulate articles and Q&A summaries for future articles on this blog.  Take care and speak soon!


Entry filed under: Clinical Massage & Bodywork. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Important Muscles Involved in Lower Back Pain – Part 2 : Psoas Resolving back pain through spinal manipulation

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. luluwoods  |  18 June, 2010 at 13:06

    Hi Henry,
    Excellent series of posts. I think people always assume it’s just their back muscles that are the problem when they have back pain. So thanks for educating us to look at the whole picture.

    Kind regards,
    Louise Woods

    • 2. Henry Tang  |  18 June, 2010 at 20:15

      Hi Louise,

      Thanks for your comments. Yes that’s right, it’s not always the muscles at the back of the body that are the major cause of back pain in a certain person, and if you factor in trigger points which are basically knots in the muscle that can cause referred pain, it’s not always obvious where to treat unless you’ve got the help of someone who knows to assist you.

      Do you have anything you’d like to add from an EFT perspective? Maybe even write a guest article on here about EFT for back pain if inspired?

      Kind regards,

  • 3. luluwoods  |  22 June, 2010 at 11:37

    Hi Henry,

    Thanks, that will be great. I’ll email you soon with an article. Feel free to do the same if you fancy.

    Kind regards,

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  • 7. GoogleHotNews  |  6 August, 2010 at 15:00

    Hi Henry,

    great and informative blogpost, keep up the good work. thanks

  • 8. Darren  |  24 February, 2011 at 03:40

    Hi Henry,

    I think i have over contracted rectus abdominal muscles on my right-hand side. The linea alba dont match where the muscles bunch up and so far the only advise i have gotten is to just keep exercising, focusing more on the left hand side. Duh… The problem is though that every time i try, my muscles do so in the incorrect place, furthering the problem.

    I would really appreciate any advice.


    • 9. Henry Tang  |  1 May, 2011 at 17:08

      Hi Darren,

      Sorry the delay in replying, how is your rectus abdominus doing?

      If still a problem, I’d suggests seeking a therapist who does myofascial release, particularly direct myofascial or structural integration work, I feel some indirect myofascial work to get things started on the abdominal area and then structural integration on your rectus abdominus which involves you contracting and relaxing these muscles at the same time whilst the therapist works on following the release would sound ideal. This release and direct re-education process should help with the firing up order of the muscles too.

      Might also suspect a visceral as well as emotional element to be involved here too… ICV valve? Visceral manipulation therapy (not as aggressive as the name might suggest, it’s very gentle) also recommended to unwind the deeper soft tissues before re-aligning the rectus abds.

      Hope that helps, but if you’d like to ask further question please feel free to do so.


  • 10. samri  |  14 March, 2012 at 04:09

    Today, while taking a final at a university, by back felt like it was going to snap. my lower back was is such pain… I have Scholiosis and hyperlordosis and when stress is added along with bad posture… there would be pain. The way I dealt with it was to lean into the chair.

  • 11. ปวดหลัง  |  20 May, 2014 at 15:42

    Terry O’Brien of Back Trouble UK says “While 80 percent of the population are likely to experience low back pain at some stage in their life, there is a worrying trend in the amount of back pain experienced by teenagers. Sitting down for long periods of time could cause lower back pain. Thank you for stopping by today and I hope these natural remedies for back pain do you the world of good.


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Henry Tang – Therapeutic & Advanced Clinical Massage Practitioner (Crows Nest, Sydney, Australia)

Click image above to visit Spaces of Possibilities Wellness Centre, Crows Nest, Sydney, Australia.

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